More pets go missing during the 4th of July holiday than any other time of year due to their fear of fireworks. According to nationwide statistics from the humane society, animal control sees a 30-60% increase in lost pets between July 4th and 6th each year. As a matter of fact, July 5th is one of the busiest days for animal control and animal shelters. There are many things you can do to keep your pet’s anxiety level at bay and prevent them from running away.

  1. Keep your pets indoors: If your pet lives mostly outdoors (backyard) keep them inside during the 4th of July festivities. You might be surprised that your pet is more capable of escaping your yard than you think when they are under extreme stress. Keeping them indoors is the best way of preventing them from running away and it also help shield them from the firework noise.
  2. Create a safe place: Allow access to a location that is safe from your pet’s perspective. This can be areas like under your bed, a corner in the closet, or behind the couch. Notice where your pet tries to go when they are a frightened and if possible, give them access to that location. Your pet must be able to come and go from that location. Confining them to one area where they might no longer want to be there will only cause more problems.
  3. Background noise: Create background noise such as leaving on the television, radio, or a fan to dampen or shield the firework sounds.
  4. What not to do:
    • Do not try to reassure your pet when they are afraid. If you pet, soothe, or give them treats while they are fearful, they may think that you are rewarding them for their fearful behavior. Instead, behave normally as if you didn’t notice their fearful behavior.
    • Do not punish your pet for being afraid. Punishment will only make them more fearful.
    • Do not lock your pet in a crate or cage. It can add to their frustration and may cause them to injure themselves trying to escape. Instead, leave the crate or cage open to create another possible safe place for your pet.
  1. Anxiety vest: Anxiety vests such as the thunder shirt work by applying a gentle and constant pressure similar to swaddling an infant. The reported success rate is over 80% and it works for all types of anxiety.

Medications

When nothing helps with anxiety, most people will turn to sedating their pets to keep them calm. Benadryl (diphenhydramine) is the most popular choice since it is considered relatively safe for dogs. But Benadryl is an antihistamine made for allergies, with sedation being a side effect. Sedation is not guaranteed and Benadryl has been known to cause paradoxical excitement in some dogs. There are also many Benadryl combo products that may contain acetaminophen or pseudoephedrine that may be toxic to dogs. It is important that pet owners only use Benadryl or generic diphenhydramine for allergies in pets only and avoid potentially harmful combination products.

The fireworks around the 4th of July may occur a few days prior and last several days well after the holiday. Keeping your pets sedated for a long period of time is unsafe. Instead of using OTC products to sedate and calm down pets during the holidays, it is better to make a visit to your veterinarian and get a prescribed pet anxiety medication. Anxiety medicines like benzodiazepines (BZDs) and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are ideal for your pets in combating noise and storm phobias. BZDs are fast acting drugs that can be used on an as needed basis for dogs that need periodic help with anxiety such as during fireworks or a thunder storm. SSRIs are long acting drugs that may take several weeks to fully take effect. SSRIs are made for dogs with frequent or severs anxiety such as separation anxiety or social anxiety. BZDs and SSRIs can be combined to help deliver a quicker drug response.

Giving your pets medication can be challenging. Most pet owners struggle when giving their pets medication, especially in pill form. The medication may be well hidden within a treat and still your pet will somehow end up spitting out the medication later due to its unpleasant flavor. Dosing is another thing that pet owners struggle with. Medications often come in limited strengths with little variability. There are so many different types of dogs varying in sizes and weight that calculating the proper dose could be challenging especially if the medication is not scored for cutting or splitting.

Compounded pet prescriptions can eliminate the challenges that come with giving pets medication. For example, BZDs such as Diazepam (Valium) or SSRIs such as Fluoxetine (Prozac) can be compounded in the form of a meat flavored suspension that pets will love. The medication will be custom made specifically for your pet’s size and weight to maximize efficacy and minimize toxicity. The medication will also be dispensed with a medicine dropper so that the accurate dose is easily measured. Ask your veterinarian to have your pet prescriptions compounded.

References

1, 2, 3, 4 (http://www.humanesociety.org/animals/dogs/tips/fear_thunder_loud_noises.html)

5.  (http://www.thundershirt.com)

Medication Reference Sites

(http://www.anydogrescue.org/benadryl-for-dogs/)

(http://www.dogaware.com/articles/wdjanxiety.html )

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